Erin Shomaker’s 10th kill of the first set slammed off the Pavilion hardwood and ended up in the netting above the bleachers as Maryland volleyball trudged to the other side of the bench.
Shomaker’s putaway became a sight all too familiar for the Terps, who watched the two-time reigning ASUN player of the year slice through the Maryland block all night, racking up 27 kills to help the Eagles hand Maryland its first loss of the season, 3-1.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the loss, but definitely not disappointed in the effort or the relentlessness of this group,” said coach Adam Hughes. “I thought they showed a lot of heart.”
The Eagles came out firing in the opening frame, as two quick Shomaker kills and a service ace helped FGCU jump out to a 6-1 lead, forcing coach Adam Hughes into an early timeout.
Hughes’ timeout proved crucial, as the Terps engineered their own run, rattling off six of the next seven points to swing the momentum back over to Maryland.
Sam Csire re-energized the Pavilion crowd with a kill and a block assist, sparking the 6-1 rally that suddenly put the Eagles on their heels and spelled a timeout from coach Matt Botsford.
But in contrast to yesterday, where the Terps pulled away from a closely-contested frame, it was the Eagles who reclaimed the momentum and ran away with the set.
An 11-11 tie was broken by Juliana Lentz putaway that sparked a second 6-1 FGCU spurt as Hughes summoned his team to the bench once again. The break did little to halt the Eagles’ run, who rode a .364 hitting percentage to convincingly take the first frame, 25-16.
The duo of Shomaker and Skylar English had their way throughout the opening set, combining for 15 kills as the Eagles relentlessly carved up the best blocking team in the Big Ten over the last two seasons.
“Those are dark tournament teams,” said Rainelle Jones, who logged seven block assists on the night. “Big Ten is coming up, and those are also tournament teams as well, so defense is a big thing and continuing to enjoy the little things and just critique the little things is a big deal for us.”
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The Terps would not falter, putting together another stirring run to open the second set. Aided by four FGCU errors, the Terps raced out to a 7-3 lead, taming the Eagles’ attack.
But FGCU clawed its way back, tying the set at 12 after back-to-back aces by Lauren Clark. Then, with the set deadlocked at 13, Jones and Sydney Dowler teamed up to wall an Eagles attack. Csire followed up with a service ace to push the Maryland lead to two and sent FGCU back to its bench.
The energy was promptly exhausted out of the break, as an ace followed by a kill from English capped a lightning-quick 4-0 Eagles run that put Maryland on the ropes once again.
A second Hughes timeout did little to cool off Shomaker, who poured in two additional kills before the coach spent another stoppage.
The longest rally of the set was sparked by a clutch dig by the Terps, which was followed up by a Laila Ricks and Jones block that drew an ear-splitting roar from the invigorated home crowd.
“I honestly don’t even hear the crowd, which is pretty insane,” Jones said. “The Pavilion definitely fires with the energy. It’s a hard place to play in, but it’s also very energizing.”
The block brought Maryland back to within a point with the frame on the line, but Shomaker sent a sizzling rope down the line to close the door on set two, 25-23.
On the brink of their first defeat of the season, Maryland refused to quit.
A pancake dig by Maddie Naumann led to the first of back-to-back Laila Ivey kills as the Terps grabbed an early 5-4 lead.
Maryland was able to quell an FGCU attack moments later, as Dowler and Anastasia Russ stood tall to stymie a Lauren Clark spike attempt, forcing a timeout.
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Dowler came through again moments later to amplify the momentum, as her service ace keyed a Terps surge that gave them their largest lead so far at 16-8.
With that comfortable lead, Maryland clamped down on defense, logging three blocks and holding the Eagles to a .033 hitting percentage throughout the set. The Terps feasted on ten FGCU errors to take the third frame 25-14.
After torching the Maryland block with 37 kills through the first two sets, the Eagles could only manage 8 in the third set against a sturdier Maryland block, keyed by libero Milan Gomillion.
“We made an adjustment in the third to try to get Milan [Gomillion] in middle back to see if she could steal some balls over the top, [and] she did a good job of that,” Hughes said.
Gomillion’s hustle helped Maryland feed off their new sense of momentum early in the fourth set.
The sophomore stood tall in the face of consecutive FGCU sizzling attacks to propel Maryland to an early 5-2 lead as it appeared Maryland was gearing up for another surge.
But the Eagles hung around, reclaiming a 12-9 lead via a trio of kills by Shomaker. After seeing the deficit bleed to six, Hughes called his team to the bench to regroup, eight points away from its first loss of the season.
On the brink of defeat, the Terps fought to stay alive. Csire’s 15th kill of the match preceded a Ricks service ace, but the Eagles would not be denied. They rattled off eight of the next nine points, highlighted by consecutive sizzling aces by English to take the match, 25-14.
The Terps finished the Maryland invite 2-1, with their matchup against the Eagles serving as a test for what’s ahead.
With 12 matches slated against 2021 NCAA tournament teams, the Terps reveled in the opportunity to test themselves against the Eagles, who also qualified for the tournament last season.
“That’s why I wanted to make this tournament the way it is,” Hughes said. “We wanted to test ourselves a little bit … I think [we’re] pretty hungry to get back to work knowing that [we] can play at that kind of level.”